|A scene from Magic Mike.|
By Don Simpson
The titular Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) is the lead attraction of the Cock-Rocking Kings of Tampa. In an effort to raise enough capital to open his own custom furniture business (he is a self-proclaimed entrepreneur), Mike also does custom detailing and works various construction jobs. It is on a construction site that Mike meets a 19-year-old college dropout, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who is desperately trying to make enough cash to get out of his oh-so-serious sister Brooke's (Cody Horn) drab apartment.
By pure happenstance they meet again; this time Mike brings Adam to Club Xquisite, an all-male revue run with fantastic bravado by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). At first, Dallas agrees to hire Adam to do odd jobs around the club; but it is not long until Adam fatefully appears on stage as "The Kid." It becomes increasingly evident that Adam represents Mike's past. (In a strange sort of way, Magic Mike takes on an A Christmas Carol-esque quality, except that this film is set in Tampa in the summertime -- does that make Scrooge a financially-struggling stripper who has still found a way to live in excess, albeit quite unhappily?) Like an apparition from Mike’s past, young Adam reminds Mike what his life was like before it started spiralling downward, and it is by spending time with Adam that Mike discovers an option to improve his life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Dallas has offered Mike a slice of equity in a beachfront club in Miami that promises to be a much bigger version of Club Xquisite, which basically means that Mike's current lifestyle will soon be jacked-up on steroids. But as Mike observes Adam's downward spiral into the seedy world of perpetual parties, drugs, sex and easy money he recognizes the safety and security of Brooke, a woman who works a respectable day job and lives an extremely bland existence. That's right, Brooke can save Mike from the seedy life of a stripper!
So, on one level, Magic Mike works as a portrait of working-class struggles; people who are striving for financial success and have learned how to (temporarily?) live in gross extravagance by way of the few options that are currently available to them. This is a world in while women represent security, while men aimlessly flounder around until they recognize the strength and maturity of the women around them. In other words, women allow men to realize their dreams and true potential. Without the guidance of women, men waste their money, they buy big ass SUVs and invest in get-rich-quick schemes (such as male strip clubs and drug deals).
But relationships in Steven Soderbergh's hyper-real universe are not just another business transaction. Relationships are just as much about sexual attraction. Against her better judgment, Brooke is attracted to Mike because he represents a sexier and more honest alternative to her boyfriend (Reid Carolin);just as it is Brooke's physical beauty that first catches Mike's attention. Playing with the concepts of observation and perception, Soderbergh's film is about watching people and watching people watch other people as well as what the voyeurs learn about the people that they watch. The most obvious example is when Brooke visits Club Xquisite. She stands in the back of the club, remaining totally detached as an observer, as if this is merely a sociological experiment for her. We observe Brooke as she reacts to the hordes of women swooning over Mike. It is clearly the way that the women are watching and reacting to Mike that interests Brooke, not his performance. Brooke explains to Mike later that by observing this particular moment she gets what he does and why he does it. (Not one for expository dialogue, Soderbergh refrains from having Brooke lecture us on her findings.)
The narrative comes to a grinding halt any time the camera enters Club Xquisite -- which functions as a total escape from reality for its entertainers and their audience. The stage presentations are choreographed like scenes from classic Hollywood musicals. Everything is hilariously over-the-top from the stage design to the lighting and the props, not to mention the cartoonishly hammy ringleader, Dallas (McConaughey is nothing short of brilliant). Visually, this topsy-turvy carnival turns 100-plus years of the objectification of women in cinema on its head. Soderbergh presents us with the Cock-Rocking Kings, men with impeccable pecs and 12-pack abs, flaunting their bulging banana hammocks and taut bare buttocks (which garner a fair share of close-ups and zoom ins) for the audience to ogle and fantasize about. All the while, Magic Mike is an overtly intelligent, message-driven film that is worthy of inclusion in gender studies curriculum.